Pros and Cons of the Traditional Marketing Tools in Selling Technology Products and Services

Over the last many years, I have had the opportunity to play a close role in defining and planning the Strategy and Marketing of multiple products and offerings in my current organization. Sometimes indirectly and very recently more directly. The key successful ones amongst them were for GlobalLogic Velocity (Product Engineering Platform which won the Infoworld Top 100 Innovation Award), Version 1.0 Offering (End-to-End Idea to Launch Services Offering for Early Stage Products), and very recently with the Cloud Computing and Enterprise Mobility offerings within the Consumer and Enterprise (C&E) Business Unit. In addition to these direct ones, I have till-date assisted more than half-dozen early stage product companies with their Launch Strategy and Marketing.

For many who know me personally or through my blog – would know that I come from a technology/engineering background. So it was not only enriching to understand, learn, and implement various Strategy and Marketing activities but also has given me a chance to think about the all the established practices in Strategy and Marketing from a completely different/new angle. So in some sense the Engineering/Analytical mindset in me did affect my thinking in my new role. And considering that I work for a Technology R&D Services organization certainly made me think more analytically.

When I started in this Marketing role – a large chunk of marketing strategy was (it is still a big part of our strategy) driven using more of the traditional marketing tools which typically were very content driven. Be it using the collateral artifacts (case studies, brochures, white papers, etc.), web sites, email campaigns, webinars, etc. Over the years the sophistication and quality of such marketing tools has certainly improved a lot and I have seen it able to hit and target and reach more and more varied customer base. However, the effectiveness from the perspective of sales converts of this Content-Driven strategy leaves a lot to desire. Here are some of my thoughts on the effectiveness of many of such existing marketing tools –

Case Studies –

Case Studies - Tool for creating perception

Case Studies - Tool for Creating Perception (Note: Perception is Reality!)

Case Studies are the marketing collateral that tells the stories of other customer’s beneficial experiences with the product or service offering. Case Studies as a Marketing Strategy has been age-old; sellers and buyers are well-aware of this concept; and is considered to be a no-brainer to be implemented if there are enough evidences of successful usage of the product/services being marketed.

From an ROI perspective, however I have always questioned the marketing value of case studies. Here are my reasons why –

  • Regardless of how one writes it – it is very difficult for the reader to draw/conclude definite cause-effect conclusions from a case study. And this defeats the whole purpose of writing the case study.
  • Biases – Perceive and writing down beneficial experiences of the customers from a delivery side is always filled in with biases.
  • Eternal Truth – From a buyers perspective – the needs for every buyer are different. What has worked for another organization may not work for them. It is typically very hard to generalize from a single case.
  • Lastly, if standards and best practices associated with writing a case study are not well implemented in an organization it sucks up a lot of time and effort to create them while the returns on such efforts are always questionable.

For me the real challenge in case studies is not in its creation – but in spending enormous number of hours in trying to determine that one golden standard which is most applicable to the product/services. After so many years, I have come to the conclusion that no such golden standard exists for creating Case Studies!

According to me, the strategy around Case Studies should be more directed towards creating a perception around the product/services. Expecting that it would help in influencing a buyer’s decision would be far-fetched in terms of expectations, IMHO. Few of my colleagues have argued that creating a good perception and influencing a decision is one and the same thing. However, any good Marketeer would say – good perception only creates an environment to buy – however decision to buy is based on many other factors. With this in mind, I strongly believe that it is not the number of case studies we have in our repository which matters – but it is about whether those case studies are helping in creating the perception around the product/services or not. I have seen many organizations unfortunately fail to think about it in this way.

Brochures –

To Inform - Core purpose of Brochures

To Inform - Core purpose of Brochures

Especially in the technology sales world, I personally find this particular marketing strategy i.e. creating brochure to be the least effective one. Historically brochures typically seem to have a flashy or cutesy embodiment associated with it – and this typically does not go well technology-oriented products and services. Second – Brochures  typically are a print-based strategy and not associated with the digital world. This might be the reason why I feel this way about Brochures considering that this is the most commonly used thing which we all see around us today – especially in the Consumer world.

As a rule of thumb – brochures in marketing is used to let your customers know about your offerings. However, considering the much better effectiveness of online medium in technology world to let others know about your products/services –  brochures have a very limited applicability in the technology world.

White Papers –

First, my definition of what White Papers means is based on how Michael Stelzner, author of the book “Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged” describes it –

The term white paper is an offshoot of the term white book, which is an official publication of a national government. A famous white paper example is the Winston Churchill White Paper of 1922, which addressed political conflict in Palestine.

A white paper typically argues a specific position or solution to a problem. Although white paper take their roots in governmental policy, they have become a common tool used to introduce technology innovations and products. A typical search engine query on “white paper” will return millions of results, with many focused on technology-related issues.

White Papers - Tool for Lead Generation

White Papers - Tool for Lead Generation

In the Technology world, White Paper has been an age-old popular marketing strategy. In my experience, I have seen White Papers – if implemented and delivered properly – as an effective tool for Lead Generation. But beyond the purpose of Lead Generation, I have always felt that the effectiveness of White Papers is very limited based on how and where it is used. The second challenge I see in White Papers is in how organizations confuse them with Articles or Brochures. Important thing to keep in mind is that White Papers is kind of a hybrid between both. Articles are typically based on informative content whereas Brochures are more persuasive.

Web Sites –

Web Sites - Facilitates Push or Pull Marketing

Web Sites - Facilitates Push or Pull Marketing

As much as there is an inherent desire from any Marketing professional to use push mechanisms of reaching out to their potential customers – pull still remains more prominent than the push in terms of engaging with the customer. Towards this Web Sites – from many other purposes it also serves – remains and will continue to remain a prominent tool in the Marketeer’s hands.

In my personal opinion – not many companies still have completely cracked the mystery of how to use Web Sites effectively as part of their marketing strategy. One of the biggest challenge, IMO, is the reducing attention span of the readers and the increasing number of choices they have. (Jakob Nielsen’s article – “How Users Read on the Web?” is a good read to understand the challenges facing Web Sites)

Webinars –

One to Many Outreach

Webinars - One to Many Outreach

Compared to the above tools – Webinars (Web + Seminar) is relatively newer marketing tool which has come into prominence in the recent 5-6 years. Once again a powerful tool and with an increasing ease from a technology perspective it is starting to become easier to implement it too – but the jury on this one too is still out on how best to use this mechanism to reap the maximum power to reach out to the potential customers. In some sense – the current challenge is once again to attract the attention of the target customer to the webinars.

IMO, the key thing for successful webinars – topic, presentation style, and the follow-ups. There is enough science out there to help on all these three and can be a topic for another thread itself.

Once again, this blog is a dump of my conclusions about these tools typically used in marketing drawn from my experience and observations. I would love to hear experiences from others too.

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